Conrad Smith has confirmed he will make his return for Wellington on Friday and hinted a contract extension with New Zealand Rugby is imminent.
The All Blacks centre and Hurricanes captain broke his thumb in the second test against England in Dunedin last month and is keen for game-time ahead of the opening Rugby Championship test in Sydney on August 16.
Smith has signed up for 40 minutes against Manawatu at the Hutt Recreation Ground on Friday and plans to repeat the dose when the All Blacks take on North Harbour and Northland in a practice game of three halves next week in Albany.
''I've been playing long enough so hopefully two halves of rugby will be enough to get me back up to speed,'' he said today as the All Blacks assembled on Auckland's North Shore for a two-day camp.
''I've had a bit of a break. It's never bad when you've been playing for a while. You try to make the most of it. I enjoyed getting away from the game for a couple of weeks and being able to do some fitness work.
''The first couple of weeks I couldn't do much but the last fortnight I've been able to run around and train and I'm now hoping to get a game on Friday and get back into things.''
An integral member of the All Blacks midfield and leadership group, having played 77 tests, Smith is off contract at the end of this season but after enjoying a sabbatical at the end of last year he's feeling refreshed.
Contract negotiations were well underway and the 32-year-old indicated an agreement, which will take him through to next year's World Cup and possibly beyond, will soon be reached.
''It's pretty straight forward,'' he said.
''They gave me a bit of time. I just wanted to see how I'd handle another year in the game, particularly after my break last year, and I've loved it. Everything has been pretty positive. If I can see I can add value to the team then I'm keen to stick around so it's a bit of a formality.''
All Blacks assistant coach Ian Foster, meanwhile, attempted to downplay the psychological impact the result of Saturday's Super Rugby final between the Crusaders and Waratahs could have on the first Bledisloe Cup battle.
''There will be a little bit to gain out of it mentally - it would be nice to see the Crusaders win in Sydney knowing we're going to be there in two weeks,'' Foster said.
''It's certainly not going to be a big indicator of the [test] result. Winning a championship breeds confidence and it would be nice for us to be on that side.''
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